Miami hockey is in Orono, Maine to play the University of Maine and try to win its first regular season game with better puck management and the utilization of its improving power play and penalty kill.
“We expect a hostile environment,” Head Coach Enrico Blasi said in a press conference on Tuesday. “This is a really good hockey team with real big, strong, like to play North, heavy team with some skill up front that is very dangerous. We’re going to have to make sure we’re ready to go and compete at a high level.”
Last season, the RedHawks were 9-20-7 and looked to start their season strong. After losing both games of their opening weekend series at home to No. 5 Providence College, the RedHawks needed to rebound. And they did — winning 7-5 in an exhibition game against the Under-18 USA National Team Development Program last Friday.
The RedHawks look to their offense for big games against the UMaine Black Bears — six ’Hawks had a multi-point game against the U-18s. The high-scoring game showed Miami’s improved ability to generate scoring chances, though this weekend it’ll look to its defense to ward off Maine and play with the lead.
“One of the biggest things, is you can’t let off the gas,” junior forward Josh Melnick said during the conference. “I think we had a three goal lead at one point and, obviously, they came back. I think they had a pretty good third period; and another thing is just closing teams out, I think that’s something we learned.”
Though Miami’s blue liners will have to play that solid defense, it will be unsurprising if they find the back of the net and contribute on the score sheet. Junior defenseman Grant Hutton had two goals last weekend and will look to add to his record of three goals in three games played. Senior captain defenseman Louie Belpedio had two assists against the U-18s.
Miami freshmen have also worked their way onto the scoresheet. On opening weekend, freshmen contributed to all three goals scored and forward Phil Knies had two assists against Team USA last Friday. After the disappointing Providence losses and two full weeks of practice, the team is feeling prepared and energized going into this weekend.
“Last week was a really good week at practice and so far this week has been awesome,” Melnick said. “There’s a lot of energy out there and we’ve been focusing on the little details and executing down low. I think we’ve done a really good job of that so far.”
The RedHawks have worked on exiting the zone, odd-man rushes and one-on-one battles — all essential elements to specifically improving their power play and penalty kill. Opening weekend, the Red and White’s power play was 1-for-14 against Providence and then 1-for-6 last Friday against Team USA. Miami improved from allowing Providence two quick goals during a five minute major and killed both of Team USA’s two power plays.
“It’s hard to determine how quick those things should work, it’s all about timing and chemistry and sometimes it takes a little bit longer than other things,” Blasi said. “I think the PK probably moves a little bit quicker — you can see some improvements a little bit faster, because it’s all about the hard work and making sure you’re in the right position. When you talk about the power play, it’s timing, it’s where guys need to be, it’s moving the puck, it’s understanding what the opposing team’s doing.”
Besides the power play and penalty kill, Miami’s last line of defense has looked strong. Sophomore goaltenders Ryan Larkin made 46 saves in the two games against Providence, and Chase Munroe made 16 saves to hold off the U-18s.
Either goaltender will have to watch for Maine’s junior forward Brendan Robbins and junior defenseman Rob Michel who both have a goal and an assist on the season.
The Black Bears are 2-1, but are coming off a 5-1 loss to the University of Connecticut. The last time Maine played was Oct. 7 so it will be well-rested to take on Miami.
Last season, Miami was 1-0-1 against UMaine at home — first tying Maine 3-3 and then shutting them out 5-0. The Black Bears lead the RedHawks 5-2-1 in the all-time series, but Miami has won their last three meetings.
“We’ve heard it’s a great atmosphere, it’s a great place to play — nice rink,” Melnick said. “We played them last year, obviously. We know they’re a good team and we’re preparing for that. Honestly, we’re not preparing any differently than any other week. Just being better every single day and doing the small things.”
The non-conference series will start at 7 p.m. tonight and again on Saturday.